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New Chesapeake Legislation Would Keep Ag Under USDA

New Chesapeake Legislation Would Keep Ag Under USDA
Chesapeake Bay Foundation calls it an end-run to escape the Clean Water Act.

Top federal Environmental Protection Agency officials acknowledge that agriculture is doing its part to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. So why not leave what works alone - under U.S. Department of Agriculture, instead of mandating more regulation under U.S. EPA?

That's the basis of legislation introduced late last week by U.S. Congressmen Tim Holden, D-Penn., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research, respectively. They introduced the Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act - HR 5509.

New bill would keep Chesapeake watershed ag programs from New York to Virginia under USDA.

Goodlatte contends "will protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay while also ensuring the strength and vitality of our family farms and local communities within the Bay Watershed." The bill uses "the successful existing USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service structure to give producers regulatory certainty.

In brief, it allows for NRCS to utilize the existing third party partnership structure to make certain conservation practices are fully implemented and verified. The pathway is modeled on the structure and relationship NRCS and their partners have used to implement conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Farmland Protection Program.

Not tough enough, claims CBF

After a quick review of the legislation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President Roy Hoagland had this to say: "While HR 5509 contains some positive elements such as increasing government accountability and encouraging environmental services markets, the Holden-Goodlatte bill fails to achieve the critical goal of managing agricultural pollution through a conservation planning process that achieves pollution reduction.

"Instead, the bill's agricultural conservation planning provisions are an end-run on the 38-year-old Clean Water Act. (It) would ensure the continuing and documented contribution of pollution from agricultural sources to the rivers and streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

Hoagland added that the bill failed to set science-based goals or require consequences for failure. And he contended that anyone concerned about the thousands of miles of polluted streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed should actively support the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act sponsored by Senator Cardin and Congressman Cummings" - which CBF helped write.

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